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Commissioners take steps toward fixing lead in Dukeville community’s water

SALISBURY — During a called meeting Thursday afternoon, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners took steps to remedy elevated levels of lead in the water of some homes in the Dukeville area.

Commissioners approved a $37,067 contract with 120Water for the Indiana-based company to distribute Brita filtration pitchers and water testing kits to all 162 households on the Northeast Rowan County Water System. The Brita filters are to be used by residents while the county explores ways to eliminate the high levels of lead that have been discovered in the water in some homes.

To determine definitively how many homes may have lead in their water, commissioners are asking each resident on the water system to complete a water test from 120Water that will contain instructions when sent to the homes.

“The most important thing today is to encourage all 162 folks to help us get samples of their water so that we can know where we’re going and how many folks we’re having to affect with this,” said Vice Chairman Jim Greene.

The Brita filters and tests will arrive by Feb. 15.

To further encourage residents to complete the tests, commissioners approved a motion to authorize county staff to offer a $72 credit on the monthly utility bill of residents who complete the test.

The incentive was recommended by Hazen and Sawyer, the engineering firm the county hired in September to determine a way to gain compliance and eliminate elevated levels of lead. Roger Arnold, the firm’s lead and copper expert, said it has been proven incentives can “greatly augment” citizen participation.

The county discovered the presence of lead in at least four homes, which exceeds the EPA’s limit of zero, through several rounds of water sampling that concluded in late 2020. The water system is owned by the county, but the water itself is treated by Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.

County officials and Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Director Jim Behmer said the water line running to the home is not the issue because construction occurred in the previous three years. It was initially intended as a water line to jump-start economic development in the northern Rowan County area, but questions about the quality of private well water around the former Buck Steam Station, a coal-fired power plant, prompted state government to require Duke Energy to provide clean water to houses nearby. While Rowan County officials had already moved forward with plans to extend water lines to residents coping with water quality questions, Duke Energy’s compliance came by helping pay for construction costs associated with the project.

The current course of action for the county to eliminate the lead is by building a chemical booster station along the Northeast Rowan County Water System that would inject a chemical into the water to coat the pipes in customers’ homes to prevent any lead seepage. 

“What the pump station would do would give SRU the opportunity to treat this line specifically, with, as (County Manager Aaron Church) called it, a ‘prescription,’” Chairman Greg Edds said.

To determine if the chemical booster station would provide a permanent solution to the problem, the county has contracted with Virginia Tech to conduct water tests.

While the tests are being conducted, the county is moving full steam ahead with plans to build the booster station, since it must gain compliance by June 12 or face penalties from the state. The chemical booster station would cost the county an estimated $630,000.

The county is considering three alternative solutions, which Arnold presented to commissioners during the meeting:

  • Salisbury-Rowan Utilities conducts system-wide treatment adjustments. This would result in SRU changing treatment for not only residents on the Northeast Water System, but every customer on the SRU system.
  • Installing faucet-filters in homes that would remove any lead. This method may or may not result in compliance pending a rules decision by the EPA.
  • Replacing the lead and copper plumbing and fixtures in the homes where elevated levels of lead have been discovered. The viability of this method depends on residents using the Northeast Water System achieving 100% compliance on the upcoming water tests distributed by 120Water. It also has not been approved as a solution by the state.

During the meeting, a citizen who lives in the Dukeville area asked commissioners if the presence of lead in the pipes of one home could impact the water in a nearby home that does not have lead in its pipes.

The answer, Behmer said, is no.

“It is an isolated issue per house,” Behmer said.

Commissioners encouraged residents who are on the water system to take certain precautions when using drinking water — running cold water from a faucet for three minutes before drinking it and manually cleaning aerators in faucets. Boiling water does not eliminate lead, Greene said.

More information about the county’s response to the lead issues facing some Dukeville residents can be found by contacting Church at 704-216-8180 or by email at Aaron.Church@rowancountync.gov.

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